As with all policy debates, it is important that facts and science drive the discussion on plastic bags. The Mercer Island City Council is currently considering a ban on highly reused and 100% recyclable plastic bags and a five-cent fee on paper bags. This is a move that will fail to accomplish any environmental goal, will actually turn shoppers to environmentally-inferior alternatives and will jeopardize the local economy.
Plastic bags make up less than half a percent of all municipal waste and traditionally less than 1 percent of litter in the United States. The reality is that banning them will result in no tangible reduction in either the quantity of waste or litter. Bag bans also push shoppers to use environmentally-harmful reusable bags, which require far more energy to produce and are made overseas with foreign oil, and therefore have a much larger carbon footprint. The difference is so dramatic that University of Oregon professor David Tyler notes that if climate change is your priority, plastic bags are the best option at checkout.
The unintended environmental consequences of banning plastic bag are not the only reason they are deeply flawed—they also jeopardize American manufacturing jobs. 1,000 Washingtonian families rely on the plastic bag manufacturing, recycling and distribution sectors to put food on the table. Plastic bag bans, like the one under consideration in Mercer Island, threaten vital jobs within the plastics industry.
Instead of a policy that will threaten jobs for no environmental gains, Mercer Island should augment the existing in-store take-back recycling program with more education on plastic bag recycling. Recycling is the better alternative because it protects jobs and the environment.
Chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance